Friday, October 5, 2007

Opportunities for diversity

At this week's faculty meeting, Susan Hillman called to our attention the need for us to facilitate opportunities for our students and ourselves to explore and understand the importance of diversity in our schools and society. We discussed the challenges of learning from faculty, peers and students of other races and cultures in states like Maine, which have relatively small minority populations. For example, the education department of the University of Maine at Orono has started to place more of its student-teaching assignments in Portland where some schools are more diverse than those nearer to Orono. We discussed how the additional demand for placement sites impacts the schools trying to serve those students. Despite our good intentions, we must not overwhelm those students and the institutions that serve them.

As members of the majority culture, we must also identify and use other venues to support our learning. Distributed networks of people from many locations can provide some of those opportunities if we can find ways to develop rich experiences. The Language Exchange, a new application on Facebook, seems to provide such an opportunity to explore and assess.
Access to the links for the Language Exchange require that you establish a Facebook account. The following exerpt describing the application may convince you that is its worth exploring:
Interested in learning languages and cultures?
Join our global language exchange network!

With this application it is easy to find the right language exchange partner according to the compatibility with your personal interests and your availability.

Your language exchange partners will be managed from your profile. You will be kept updated with the good practices developed by other members of our global exchange community on how to use text, audio or video to overcome the distance.

Accumulate experience and good references and you can become an "expert", resulting in extra-benefits such as more flexibility on the language exchange (e.g. you teach and learn from different people) and even receiving proposals for professional services.
With enough members in your area, we will be able to help you organise local networks as the one in the figure.

This application started with a student society at the University of Sussex in Brighton UK where we are already hundreds of members exchanging our native languages and culture with peers locally.
Using the facebook's social network, we can create a global goodwill network where we can understand each other better!
Note too, that enterprising students are showing us the way!

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